Broken Doll

Under the back porch Sarah found an old abandoned doll. Actually, to be truthful, it was Sarah’s dog Herbie who found it. He thought he had a new dog toy, and what interesting smells it had. Herbie was not happy when Sarah took the doll away from him. “Hey, that’s mine!” his bark seemed to say. “Give it back!”

But Sarah kept it. The doll was very old, with a broken porcelain face and a torn apron which must at one point have been white over a red gingham checked dress, also ripped and dirty. Sarah tried to imagine who the doll’s owner was. The previous owners of the house had been an elderly couple with no family, so she didn’t really think the doll had been a part of their lives, but who lived here before them. Sarah put the doll aside, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it. After lunch, she decided, I will go down to the county office and find out who lived here before the Wingers. She went inside, fixed herself a peanut butter sandwich, put on a clean pair of pants since hers were rather disreputable after working in the yard all morning, and headed out the door, calling to Herbie, “I’ll be right back.”

At the county offices, Sarah discovered that the Wingers had bought the house twenty years earlier from a couple named Douglass and that the Douglass family had owned the house for less than a year. That seemed strange to Sarah and so she then went over to the library. There was a nice looking lady at the reference desk and Sarah went up to her and asked, “Do you have back issues of the local newspaper? Back about 20 years?”

Millie, the reference librarian, looked up from her work. How nice, she thought, to have a real reference question. “Yes, our microfilm records go back over 100 years. How may I help you?”

Suddenly Sarah felt rather stupid. What difference did it all make? So what if there was a doll under the porch? But the librarian looked so kind that Sarah told how she’d found the doll and then discovered that her sellers had lived there for 20 years but they in fact had bought the house from a couple who’d only lived there for less than a year and now she was curious. That seemed such a short time to own a home.

Millie looked intrigued as well. “For sure,” commented Millie. “And you say that the Wingers had no family. Maybe they also didn’t have a dog like yours who explored under the porch!”

Sarah laughed and felt more at ease. “And the doll looks so sad with a broken face and all, and it definitely seems at least 20 years old, maybe even older. I just wondered who might have owned it. It’s not really important,” Sarah continued. “It just has been nagging at me so I thought I’d play detective.”

“Let’s see what we can find out,” said Millie. “You have me curious now also and to be honest, today is a pretty slow day and I am not really interested in compiling reference statistics. These days the county library administration seems to be moving us farther and farther away from the patrons and closer and closer to the paper pushers. Trying to answer your question will help me as well.”

Sarah was now really glad she had come in. Millie said, “First, let’s look through the newspaper index for the years covering the Douglasses time in the house. Now it is 2011 now. And you bought the house earlier this year?”

“Yes,” said Sarah, “from Carl and Joyce Winger. And they had bought it from Jack and Mary Douglass in 1991. In turn, Jack and Mary had bought the house from a family named Rogers, but also in early 1991. That’s what seems so strange.”

“Ok,” said Millie. “Here is the newspaper index from the 1990’s. Let’s look up Douglass.” Millie put the microfilm in the reader and started winding carefully. All of a sudden she stopped. “Look here,” she said. “An obituary for a Susan Douglass, aged 7, died of leukemia on August 21, 1991.”

“Oh dear,” said Sarah. “That explains a lot! Was she their only child?”

Millie read further, “Yes, it says that she was survived by her parents, Jack and Mary Douglass, and then both sets of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, but no other siblings. She was buried in a cemetery back East. How sad.”

“I bet the parents couldn’t bear staying in the house and so they moved. One of them might even have thrown the doll in anger at the total unfairness of it all.”

“So,” Millie wondered, “what will you do with this information?”

“I think,” said Sarah slowly, “that I will wash and mend the dolls clothes, see about getting a new face for her from the doll repair shop in town, and then bury her under the big pine tree in the backyard. That seems a fitting way to put poor Susan’s doll to rest and honor the short life Susan had, I think. Thank you for all your help.”

“You are most welcome,” answered Millie, “and thank you for giving me an interesting reference question. Have a good afternoon.”

Sarah returned home and told Herbie, “Well, we have a job to do,” and she set to work mending the sad broken doll.

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3 thoughts on “Broken Doll

  1. This story gave me goosebumps!

    When I was about little Susan’s age one of the families in our neighbourhood disappeared. They were very behind on their rent and packed up and moved one day, leaving behind almost all of their possessions….including a big pile of family photo albums!

    Our landlord let the neighbours walk through the house and take whatever we wanted (except for a few big-ticket items she was going to sell to recover some of the lost rent.)

    These neighbours had a little girl who was probably about 4 or 5 years old. It was heartbreaking to see all of the dolls she’d left behind. I ended up bringing a big bag of them home with me that day. They had a very good home until I grew too old for dolls and passed them on to someone else. 🙂

  2. Wow!! That is uncanny! I’m sure glad you were able to give the dolls a good home but really sorry for the poor little girl! Funny what a doll can do, isn’t it! Thanks for stopping by!

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